In deciding whether asylum seekers are granted asylum or not, immigration officers and judges in Switzerland as elsewhere must not only decide whether an asylum seeker fits the definition of a refugee. They must also assess the credibility of the asylum seeker’s statements. In fact, the majority of negative asylum decisions are based on the authorities attributing a lack of credibility to the claims. In this research project, it is precisely this assessment of credibility that is analysed.
In this research project we focus on four of the main actors involved in the asylum procedures: asylum seekers, legal advisors, officers working for the Federal Office of Migration as well as judges and clerks in the Federal Administrative Tribunal. By looking at these different actors the project examines how credibility and the lack of credibility are defined, what meanings are ascribed to these concepts, and how credibility is practically constructed and used. Apart from studying these actors' perceptions of and dealings with credibility, the project also intends to analyse the “struggles over credibility” between them when striving to enhance their institution’s credibility.
The approach of this research project is new to the debates on credibility assessment in asylum procedures in that it focuses on asylum seekers as well as asylum “makers” in the construction of credibility. Thus, all actors in this study are considered as participants with social agency, who contribute (even though unequally) to the generation and transformation of credibility criteria. Through this, state- and non-state actors, as well as bureaucrats and non-bureaucrats are brought together in the production of state categories regarding credibility assessment. The project relies on a multi-sited ethnographic approach. Fieldwork methods employed are interviews, participant observation and the collection of written documents.